The Los Angeles Valley College (LAVC) Family Resource Center (FRC) story began in 2004. We learned from college faculty that during class, student-parents regularly expressed challenges related to their young children. Many student-parents shared about similar frustrations and barriers that prevented them from giving 100% effort to their coursework. It became clear that student-parents have a distinct set of challenges above and beyond their peers.
Based off of these conversations, we did a little research about student-parents on college campuses. From this we formulated three assumptions that guide our work at the FRC:
- At any given time, nearly 30% of community college students have children living in the home.
- Each student-parent has a unique and diverse set of challenges and most need help in moving forward: academically, economically and emotionally.
- Colleges don’t have all the answers but can support student-parents in their journey.
Our first action was to pull together a few student-parents to create a community for social support. Someone suggested bringing their young children and so once a week we cleaned a classroom and pushed the furniture to the walls. With a volunteer from the Child Development department facilitating and a handful of toys scavenged from yard sales, a playgroup was born. Word began to spread after a photo of the playgroup appeared on the cover of the class schedule and our small community of student-parents quickly became larger. As the student-parents gained confidence and support, they took the lead in identifying some great ideas for additional family activities.
As the playgroups increased in size and frequency we decided to apply a more formalized goal. The student-parents brought their children regularly to the groups and it became clear that we should focus on the relationship between parent and child. Parents learned how to support their children during their academic journey while children played together and learned about interacting with others. Eventually, student-parents started to share their questions and concerns related to parenting, academics and entering the workforce. The playgroups helped the children to build social connections while providing the parents with an informal support system and social network.
At this point it was clear that we needed funding and a dedicated space for activities. As student-parent interest continued to grow, we added additional staffed playgroups and it became too difficult to continue using borrowed space. During this time, LAVC was in the middle of a major campus renovation and shuffling around offices. We were given a generous hand up when a dean, who had long been a champion of our work, secured an old bungalow for us to take over. We cobbled together some workforce development grant funds for minor renovations and the LAVC Family Resource Center was ready to grow!
With our own space secured, we moved on to research and review other family support programs on college campuses across the country. There were very few existing programs and most often at private, well-endowed universities. However, we were inspired by what we did find and took the ideas that we thought would benefit our student parent population; for example, the University of Chicago had a baby-clothing exchange program for graduate students.
Free baby clothes was an easy component to add to the FRC. We put out requests to local preschools for clothing donations from ages birth-to-three and within weeks we had tubs of sorted clothing available to our student-parents. Eventually, the college maintenance department built us a custom set of drawers to house all of the donations. Campus-wide, student-parents came for the free baby clothes and then stayed to learn about the other resources we offered. The free baby clothes quickly became self-sustaining as student-parents would donate the clothes their own children had outgrown.
In time, we added a private lactation room with a refrigerator for storing breast milk, a parenting and children’s book lending library, parenting workshops and community resources on a myriad of family issues. Playgroups continue to be a big draw for the campus, as well the local surrounding community. We currently offer playgroups six times a week and they remain the core of our 2-Gen programs for supporting children and parents simultaneously.
As community interest grew we reached out to local agencies for collaboration. The local regional center that identifies infants and toddlers with special needs began referring babies to our playgroups. A local health clinic came to sign up families for the Affordable Care Act. Now seen as a quality family service, the FRC has become a hub where student and community parents come for support. And the benefits play out reversely when community parents bring their babies to playgroups and then enroll in a few college classes.
At this point, our story changed. As the FRC developed a reputation for serving both LAVC students and community parents, a local developer donated funds to construct a permanent building on the LAVC campus. Built entirely with donated funds, it is located next to the Child Development Center and Child Development Department.
Today, the FRC serves more than 500 student-parents annually. Our understanding of student-parents’ unique needs has deepened over the years as program participants have shared their personal stories. As their needs continue to evolve, it is our job as educators to listen, support and empower student-parents. At every step of the FRC’s development, we have learned that it is not simply the students who gain from our program, but that both the college and the community benefit when student-parents are given the resources and support they need to succeed holistically.